At 6:30, we woke up, destroyed the hotel breakfast (I ate a waffle, a bowl of cereal, 2 bagels, 3 muffins, and yogurt) and crashed again. We only had the hotel for one night, so we got up again at 10, showered, and went down to check out and get started for real. George and Solomon went out to the Ram to unload the bikes and I went to check out…and the lady at the desk asked me if I was checking out early. I was rather confused, needless to say.
It turns out that we got into the hotel so late that they gave us the next night for free, since we weren’t really there at all. It probably only happened that way because the season hadn’t really started yet, but I’m certainly not going to complain.
We then unloaded the bikes and got them going, and the next thing I know, the DRZ is shrouded in a cloud of steam. I don’t think that DRZs overheat that easily, but Solomon had been messing with is idle while George and I got ready, and I guess that was just too much for it. After the bike cooled off, we head over to the gas station, and suddenly, DISASTER! As Solomon is pulling into the station, his exhaust starts spewing white smoke. The head gasket blew, and quite catastrophically. It’s a rare occasion when a head gasket blows both to the inside and outside of the engine.
After some deliberation, we check the phones and head over to Wheelers, which is one of the more prominent motorcycle shops in the area. Though they were closed (they got a new floor, apparently) the owner was there. Eventually it was decided that George and I would continue riding, and Solomon would work on stripping the DRZ to check the head bolt torques.
So George and I headed out. We ended up going to the forest road that parallels the Cherohala Skyway, which I believe is called FS81 or something like that. The road is a pretty good gravel road that runs down the side of the mountain into the valley and runs along the river. There are actually quite a few campgounds down there, and there was this old cabin where I guess some guy raised 8 kids. It’s a historical monument of sorts now. FS81 branches off to Wolf Laurel road, which is actually a fairly steep climb up the hill, and is really awesome to blast up on a DS. I’m still pretty used to road riding, since that’s how I started. It took me awhile to get the hang of riding on the gravel.
At the top of Wolf Laurel is this cool (but really sparsely furnished) cabin that you can apparently rent. To get here, you have to climb about 2000 feet on gravel switchbacks. It's definitely worth checking out. The cabin was closed up for the season. Coming back down Wolf Laurel, George decided he wanted to show off, slid around the intersection, and promptly lowsided right in front of me.
We eventually ended up back on the Skyway and were on our way back to Wheelers when we passed Thunder Mountain. This cool British guy Mark works there with his wife, and the two of them live in a house above the store. It’s a really cool place, and Mark knows the area incredibly well. I guess he used to rent out KLRs, so he is particularly familiar with the local dualsporting. We now have a few places to visit if/when we go back and have more time.
While we were there, we had called Solomon to let him know where we were and that we were intending to eat at the deli at Thunder Mountain. Later, we found out that the deli was closed, so we tried to call back, but he didn’t pick up. We rode back to Wheelers, where Mr. Wheeler (sorry, I’ve forgotten your first name…I’m not so great with names) informed us that we’d just missed Solomon, and that he was headed to the iron horse motorcycle lodge.
Our chase across the state came to an end at the Stecoah Diner, which ended up being fantastic. The serving sizes were a little on the small size for my appetite, but the taste more than made up for it. Absolutely wonderful.
When we left the diner, Solomon took off back to the hotel while George and I geared up. When we made it back, we found Solomon with the DRZ already out of the back of the truck talking to some guy holding a t-shirt. Turns out someone had seen Solomon trying to unload his bike by himself. They stopped to help, and right as that guy left, the t-shirt guy showed up in his Buick. You’d think that maybe this was just another nice guy who wanted to help out, but it ended up being a little more than that. After trying to sell us “half price” Tail of the Dragon shirts and trying to get us to let him ride one of our bikes, he started trying to sell us moonshine. I wasn’t really around for the rest of that as I was loading stuff into the truck, but later I found out that he would be back at 8 to tout his wares.
At 8, Solomon heads back down to commune with the mountain man. Apparently what he brought was something you would make with grape juice in your closet, and he had his wife and kid with him. Naturally we wanted nothing to do with that, but we did get a little concerned for our bikes after he left. Fortunately, no one messed with them and all was good.